Pirates sign free agent pitcher Volquez

Travis Sawchik
| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 6:00 p.m.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A year after picking a fallen star in Francisco Liriano from the free agent bargain bin and helping turn him into a pitcher that received Cy Young votes, the Pirates are hoping to help Edinson Volquez to a similar renaissance.

The Pirates reached a one-year, $5 million deal Wednesday with the right-hander, the Tribune-Review confirmed.

Volquez spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds. He was released by the San Diego Padres last season before ending the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Volquez, 30, figures to join Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation, though Jeff Locke could be in the mix as well.

The Pirates were seeking buy-low starting pitching opportunities regardless of A.J. Burnett's status. Burnett still hasn't decided whether to retire.

A club official said the Volquez deal would not preclude them from signing Burnett if he opts to play another season.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said earlier in the day that the challenge isn't so much identifying bounce-back pitchers as it is helping them overcome their flaws.

“To identify the player you think has a chance is not all that challenging,” he said. “To help that player overcome the boundaries that limited his success in the prior years? That's the challenge. But we believe in our pitching coaches. … And we do feel we have an advantage, and we've had guys come to us because of that.”

The Pirate believe they have an advantage because of PNC Park's deep dimensions, their athletic outfield and their aggressive defensive plan that combines shifts with a focus on producing groundballs. Volquez increased the use of his sinker each of the past three years.

Volquez burst on the major league scene early in his career. After the Reds acquired him from Texas for Josh Hamilton, Volquez went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA, striking out 206 batters in 196 innings in 2008.

But his career derailed.

He needed Tommy John surgery in 2009, and his spotty control worsened when he returned. He walked at least five batters per nine innings in 2010, '11 and '12. His ERAs also soared, rising to 5.71 ERA last season.

Volquez hit a low last season, released by the Padres after posting a 6.01 ERA in pitching-friendly Petco Park. He was better in a 28-inning stint with the Dodgers, posting a 4.18 ERA and 26-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Like Liriano, Volquez (53-52, 4.75 ERA for his career) has struggled with fastball command.

Like Liriano, he also offers a tantalizing combination of mid-90s fastball velocity and a true swing-and-miss pitch, his changeup. Volquez's fastball averaged 92.4 mph last season and 93.4 for his career.

Unlike Liriano, however, he does not have a second above-average off-speed pitch as his curveball is inconsistent.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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